Sagna 36, Fabregas 48
Everton fell to a 2-1 home defeat by Arsenal in a game that saw Arsene Wenger’s side dominate for large periods despite barely getting out of second gear. For their part, the Toffees worked hard but lacked the creativity to match the craft, with Everton’s main playmakers either out of form or out of position.
Lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, David Moyes made two changes to the team that drew with Bolton Wanderers in midweek – Seamus Coleman replaced Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, while the suspended Marouane Fellaini had his place taken by John Heitinga. The Dutchman’s game lasted only 45 minutes as he was hauled off at half time in favour of Jack Rodwell after a desperate opening period in which his main contribution was to pick up a yellow card. Sitting in front of the back four, Heitinga offered his defence little protection and at times sat so deep he was more of a third centre-back, instead of tracking one of Arsenal’s numerous runners from midfield or pressing the man in possession.
Heitinga was far from the only Everton midfielder to put in a sub-par effort – Mikel Arteta, so often Everton’s key man, had the poorest game of what has been a disappointing season for the Spaniard, while Steven Pienaar, the other attack-minded midfielder Everton look to for inspiration offered plenty of running but precious few ideas and spent most of the game away from his most dangerous left-wing position, first of his own volition and then through his manager’s choosing. Arteta’s malaise has manifested in some woeful set-piece attempts – corners not beating the first man, free-kicks from good positions blasting into the wall or floating harmlessly past the far post – and the No 10 could benefit from a spell on the substitutes’ bench, although with Marouane Fellaini suspended for two more games that seems unlikely.
Pienaar, meanwhile, has been devastating for Everton from the left of midfield, forming a dangerous partnership with Leighton Baines that barely troubled Arsenal yesterday. For the first half the South African drifted infield – often so far infield he was a second right-winger – and no blue shirt filled the gap, leaving Baines isolated when in possession and outnumbered in defence. That none of Pienaar’s teammates filled the gap he left hints at the move being the player’s own choosing, and in the second half Tim Cahill was moved wide with Pienaar playing mostly through the middle. Everton thus lost two dangerous weapons in Pienaar’s surges from left and Cahill’s goal threat, and only looked like scoring as the game entered the final 10 minutes, by which point Arteta had been withdrawn, and Pienaar, Cahill and Rodwell were supporting a front three of Jermaine Beckford, Louis Saha and Yakubu.
With Arteta off the field Everton went more direct and created enough chances to salvage a draw they barely deserved, but most of the 80 minutes that went before told a story of Arsenal control and Everton ineffectiveness.
18 Neville – 6 Jagielka – 15 Distin – 3 Baines
23 Coleman – 10 Arteta – 5 Heitinga – 20 Pienaar
46 – 26 Rodwell on for 5 Heitinga
69 – 16 Beckford on for 18 Neville
69 – 22 Yakubu on for 10 Arteta